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Solar Cells black-silicon

Published on October 12th, 2008 | by Andrew Williams

21

'Black Silicon' Could Revolutionize Solar Cell Technology



A newly discovered material called ‘black silicon’ is between 100 and 500 times more sensitive to light than conventional silicon, and could be used to revolutionize solar energy generation.

The material was discovered when a team of Harvard University scientists shone an ultra-powerful laser (briefly producing the same amount of energy as the sun falling on the entire surface of the Earth) on a silicon wafer, before adding sulphur hexafluoride. The result was a silicon wafer that looked black to the naked eye, but when examined under an electron microscope turned out to be covered with a massive amount of ultra-tiny spikes.

The substance has since been found to be incredibly sensitive to light, leading to a range of exciting plans for commercialization, including night-vision and infra-red imaging systems. According to James Carey, co-founder of Harvard spin-off company SiOnyx, “We have seen a 100 to 500 times increase in sensitivity to light compared to conventional silicon detectors.”

However, insiders in the solar power industry are likely to be more excited by the prospect of using black silicon technology to build far more efficient photovoltaic cells, using essentially the same silicon-based processes that are currently employed.

Harvard is expected to announce this Monday (October 13), that it has licensed patents for black silicon to SiOnyx, so it seems likely that we could see the radical new technology put to practical good use in the near future.

Image Credit – SiOnyx

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About the Author

is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.



  • Sam – Landing pages

    This is a great breakthrough. Solar energy’s potential is still undertapped in countries like US. We need to work on improving the devices to increase efficiency.

  • Sam – Landing pages

    This is a great breakthrough. Solar energy’s potential is still undertapped in countries like US. We need to work on improving the devices to increase efficiency.

  • Tito

    This technology has been out for 10 years. The university purposly hid it so they could start a company. and do you really think it would be cheaper than the current silicon based photovoltaic systems? the truth is greed will consume all. there was nobody out there that truly has the good of the greater human kind at heart except for the world famous Nikola Tesla. He cared nothing for money, he only wanted what was best for humans all around. Too bad we dont have a modern day Tesla.

  • Tito

    This technology has been out for 10 years. The university purposly hid it so they could start a company. and do you really think it would be cheaper than the current silicon based photovoltaic systems? the truth is greed will consume all. there was nobody out there that truly has the good of the greater human kind at heart except for the world famous Nikola Tesla. He cared nothing for money, he only wanted what was best for humans all around. Too bad we dont have a modern day Tesla.

  • Darian

    100 to 500 times increase in light sensitivity doesn’t translate into the same factor of efficiency increase in solar cells. You can only dislodge so many electrons out of the silicon lattice. The bandgap stays the same. The improvement comes from the double electrons coming from the Sulpur dopant, and from Sulphur’s sensitivity to the red and Infrared side of the spectrum, which Silion doesn’t have. But if you CAN double the usual 20-25% crystalline Silicon conversion efficiency with this technology, you’re taking a step closer to cost parity with conventional.

    To the granola crunchers, don’t forget that Arco Solar and BP, both “BIG ENERGY” companies, did more to improve solar conversion efficiencies, and with less money, than most of DOE’s R&D efforts.

  • Darian

    100 to 500 times increase in light sensitivity doesn’t translate into the same factor of efficiency increase in solar cells. You can only dislodge so many electrons out of the silicon lattice. The bandgap stays the same. The improvement comes from the double electrons coming from the Sulpur dopant, and from Sulphur’s sensitivity to the red and Infrared side of the spectrum, which Silion doesn’t have. But if you CAN double the usual 20-25% crystalline Silicon conversion efficiency with this technology, you’re taking a step closer to cost parity with conventional.

    To the granola crunchers, don’t forget that Arco Solar and BP, both “BIG ENERGY” companies, did more to improve solar conversion efficiencies, and with less money, than most of DOE’s R&D efforts.

  • Brian

    This material was discovered 10 years ago, that doesn’t qualify as “recent” to me. What was recent, was the licencing of the technology for commercial use.

    Also, “same amount of energy as the sun falling on the entire surface of the Earth” is 35 times greater than the most powerful laser on earth. So if this were true, you picked the wrong story.

  • Brian

    This material was discovered 10 years ago, that doesn’t qualify as “recent” to me. What was recent, was the licencing of the technology for commercial use.

    Also, “same amount of energy as the sun falling on the entire surface of the Earth” is 35 times greater than the most powerful laser on earth. So if this were true, you picked the wrong story.

  • Matt G.

    I can see that it can absorb large amount of light, but how much electricity can it actually produce?

  • Matt G.

    I can see that it can absorb large amount of light, but how much electricity can it actually produce?

  • Robert M.

    This is the kind of technology that our government should be backing with funding and resources. Alas, so many of our Congressional representatives have their hands in the pockets of Big Energy. They will do everything possible to slow it down. Big Energy does not want any invention on the market that can produce energy dirt cheap. Wait and see if they don’t find a way to kill it.

  • Robert M.

    This is the kind of technology that our government should be backing with funding and resources. Alas, so many of our Congressional representatives have their hands in the pockets of Big Energy. They will do everything possible to slow it down. Big Energy does not want any invention on the market that can produce energy dirt cheap. Wait and see if they don’t find a way to kill it.

  • CS Guy

    What a breakthrough! To heck with the usual incremental 1% improvement here 2% improvement there.

    If this pans out for solar cells we will have a true energy revolution on our hands! Hope the oil companies don’t buy up the patents (we’ll never see cheap solar then).

  • CS Guy

    What a breakthrough! To heck with the usual incremental 1% improvement here 2% improvement there.

    If this pans out for solar cells we will have a true energy revolution on our hands! Hope the oil companies don’t buy up the patents (we’ll never see cheap solar then).

  • russ

    this could be good news for applications like astrophotography too!!

  • russ

    this could be good news for applications like astrophotography too!!

  • Seamus Dubh

    Now this is sweet.

    Current Solar cells get what 40 percent efficiency, this is the kick the Solar industry needs to make super efficient, super cheep cells.

  • Seamus Dubh

    Now this is sweet.

    Current Solar cells get what 40 percent efficiency, this is the kick the Solar industry needs to make super efficient, super cheep cells.

  • Pingback: El ‘silicio negro’ podría revolucionar la tecnología de las células solares

  • http://www.peachygreen.com/ Stephanie

    This development is so exciting for the solar panel industry! With a rise in efficiency, perhaps more skeptics will be convinced of the logic and wisdom in switching to clean, solar power. Excellent article, thanks!

  • http://www.peachygreen.com/ Stephanie

    This development is so exciting for the solar panel industry! With a rise in efficiency, perhaps more skeptics will be convinced of the logic and wisdom in switching to clean, solar power. Excellent article, thanks!

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